One of the most beautiful things about the Church is that she constantly grows. One example would be how we come to more deeply understand the mysteries of our Lord Jesus and his saints. When the apostles were spreading the faith throughout the world in the mid-first century, there was no dogmatic definition on Christ’s divine and human nature. There didn’t need to be yet, because it wasn’t directly challenged. But as time went on, we see that the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the hypostatic union of Christ’s human nature and his divine nature in one person. As time goes on, the Church continues to deepen her understanding on other matters such as the significance of the Virgin Mary.
Likewise, over the last several hundred years, Catholics have seen an overwhelming increase of devotion to St. Joseph, the most chaste spouse of our Blessed Mother. It is here again that the Church continues to grow even in our present day.
For those in the eastern part of the United States, you may have heard of the Diocese of Charlotte’s recent announcement of the Year of St. Joseph. This isn’t only a great call to all those within the diocese to focus on St. Joseph’s role in the Communion of Saints, but to all Catholics around the world, especially as we find ourselves deep into the Lenten season. This is a great time to ask St. Joseph for a “pick me up” if we find ourselves falling a bit behind in our Lenten devotions and practices! There is so much that his example and life can teach us that will aid us in our path to holiness.
Husband, Father, Protector
So why is now the time for a year dedicated to St. Joseph? The reason for that is actually over a hundred years in the planning! In 1870, Blessed Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph to be the patron saint of the Universal Church in Quemadmodum Deus. At the beginning of this year, 150 years after Pius IX’s declaration, Bishop Peter Joseph Jurgis of the Diocese of Charlotte confirmed in his homily during a January 1 Mass that “We can use this special anniversary year as an opportunity to honor this great and holy man, the foster father of Jesus and the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in honoring him, draw attention to our own vocation to be holy.”
Sacred Scripture defines St. Joseph as a just man. He walked in the ways of the Lord and obeyed our Lord’s will in caring for Mary and Jesus as husband, father, and protector. What better example could we follow than the man whom God chose as his own foster father on earth?! As Bishop Jurgis also added during his homily:
“Just imagine being in the presence of the Holy One in the living flesh and blood at every moment – what holiness would be communicated to you.”
Guardian of Love
As we strive for holiness, we can contemplate the life of St. Joseph, incessantly asking for his prayers as we sojourn away from our heavenly home.
In his encyclical on devotion to St. Joseph, Pope Leo XIII confirmed how this growth in devotion to St. Joseph has continued to ramp up over the last few centuries, and how beneficial his patronage will be to all Christians:
“We judge it of deep utility for the Christian people, continually to invoke with great piety and trust, together with the Virgin-Mother of God, her chaste Spouse, the Blessed Joseph; and We regard it as most certain that this will be most pleasing to the Virgin herself. On the subject of this devotion, of which We speak publicly for the first time to-day, We know without doubt that not only is the people inclined to it, but that it is already established, and is advancing to full growth. We have seen the devotion to St. Joseph, which in past times the Roman Pontiffs have developed and gradually increased, grow into greater proportions in Our time… [I]t is of high importance that the devotion to St. Joseph should engraft itself upon the daily pious practices of Catholics, We desire that the Christian people should be urged to it above all by Our words and authority” (Quamquam Pluries, 2).
What has “gradually increased” in addition to this devotion is the pouring out of graces from St. Joseph upon the people of God. If St. Joseph cared deeply for the protection of the Holy Family, then how much more deeply does he now protect the Holy Church, which is the very Body of his foster son, Jesus Christ? This is why in just the last fifty years or so, St. Joseph’s name has been added to every Eucharistic Prayer said during the consecration at Holy Mass. First, Pope St. John XXIII inserted his name into the Roman Canon (also known as Eucharistic Prayer I) before the Second Vatican Council, and then in 2013, Pope Francis (in union with the intentions of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) inserted the blessed patriarch’s name into the other three Eucharistic Prayers of the Latin Rite. As mentioned above, it’s beautiful to see how the Church grows over the years and centuries, especially in this particular aspect of the Body of Christ’s life. Pope St. John Paull II was keenly aware of this as well, which can be seen in his 1989 Apostolic Exhortation on the life of St. Joseph:
“I am convinced that by reflection upon the way that Mary’s spouse shared in the divine mystery, the Church – on the road towards the future with all of humanity – will be enabled to discover ever anew her own identity within this redemptive plan, which is founded on the mystery of the Incarnation.
“This is precisely the mystery in which Joseph of Nazareth ‘shared’ like no other human being except Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word. He shared in it with her; he was involved in the same salvific event; he was the guardian of the same love, through the power of which the eternal Father ‘destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ.’”Redemptoris Custos, 1
Joseph in My Own Life
I can attest to this special guardianship of St. Joseph. My middle name is Joseph, my father’s first name is Joseph, and my oldest son’s middle name is Joseph. It’s one small way to pay homage to him for all the good he has done through his prayers to our Lord Jesus. After I was out of college, things were difficult with looking for work, but my father encouraged me to entrust it to St. Joseph, particularly through the devotion to The Holy Cloak in honor of him. I still have the booklet my father gave me for this powerful devotion, and it certainly helped me for consecutive Lenten seasons leading up to his feast day on March 19.
Even in our own day, newer devotions to the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph are finding their way into the hearts of Catholics throughout the world. In a private revelation given to a twenty-two-year-old student in Brazil in the 1990s, we see the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph holding much grace from God, ready to pour out upon the faithful. These apparitions of the Holy Family were approved by Bishop Carrilo Gritti of the Territorial Prelature of Itacoatiara and give great solace to sinners that our Lord Jesus desires to work through his earthly parents. One of the messages given to the young visionary, Edson Glauber, came from St. Joseph himself, who described the great promises given to those that stay devoted to him and Mary, his blessed spouse:
“I promise to all that honor this Most Chaste Heart of mine and who do here on earth good deeds in favor of the most needy, especially of the sick and dying for whom I am a consoler and protector, to receive in their last moment of their lives the grace of a good death. I myself will be to these souls their petitioner to my Son Jesus and, together with my spouse, Most Holy Mary, we will console them in their last hours here on earth, with our holy presence and they will rest in the peace of our hearts.”
Such beautiful words confirm what the Magisterium of the Church has publicly taught in the documents above, that is, St. Joseph is supremely devoted to Christ the Head, and therefore to His Body as well. When Jesus appeared to Glauber, He even asked that the prayer to St. Joseph written by St. Louis de Montefort centuries before become widely known and spread again. While St. Louis de Montefort is known for his full devotion to the Blessed Mother, he also especially venerated St. Joseph as well, and the prayer he wrote is modeled on the “Hail Mary” itself:
“Hail Joseph the just, Wisdom is with you; blessed are you among all men and blessed is Jesus, the fruit of Mary, your faithful spouse. Holy Joseph, worthy foster-father of Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners and obtain divine Wisdom for us from God, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Most Chaste Spouse
So if now is the time that you are starting to feel a bit puffed out from the Lenten season, turn to St. Joseph and entrust yourself to his guardianship. His fatherly love sustained Jesus throughout His formative years on this Earth, and St. Joseph’s love will help sustain you as you work out your salvation here in the present day. This is what is so awesome about the Communion of Saints. We are all interconnected through Christ’s Body, and that cloud of witnesses contains so many men and women that desire to see us in heaven with them and our Lord. And we can safely say that this love cannot be topped by the Blessed Virgin Mary and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph.
Defender of the Church
In closing, reflect upon the beautiful prayer that Pope Leo XIII gave us to St. Joseph in Quamquam Pluries. He asked that this prayer be added to the praying of the Rosary during the whole month of October, but as we journey during this season of Lent, we can use St. Joseph’s intercession more than ever:
“To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.
“Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.”
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Nicholas LaBanca is a cradle Catholic and hopes to give a unique perspective on living life in the Catholic Church as a millennial. His favorite saints include his patron St. Nicholas, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Mary Vianney, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
Featured image by Guido Reni, “San Giuseppe col Bambin Gesù” (St Joseph with Infant Christ in his Arms) sourced from Wikimedia Commons